The Beginning and End of the Long Sorrow
by Mathis Sommer / translation by Max Bach
The pedestrian bridge, a short while ago, used to be a lot longer. The story begins in 1877: South of the S-Bahn station – today still remotely located, as it was when it was first built – the city's giant main slaughterhouse was erected right next to the just-completed Ringbahn, forming a city outside the city. Doctor and politician Rudolf Virchow had already begun encouraging its construction a few years back, ever since the city started taking on more municipal responsibilities owing to the squalor of the overcrowded Gründerzeit (period of rapid industrial growth) neighborhoods, in order to put an end to the unhygienic slaughtering of animals in the backyards of apartment buildings.
The city rapidly grew around the slaughterhouse, and soon the complex itself wasn't big enough to keep up with the city's demand for meat. In 1906 the compound was extended from Landsberger Allee to Eldenaer Straße, blocking an expansion of tenements in Friedrichshain out past the Ringbahn. Around this time almost 15,000 cows, pigs, calves, and sheep were slaughtered each day, a process unavoidably connected with the smell of blood, screech of machines, and bellowing of animals caught in the throes of death.
Industrialization took over artisanal handwork. Cattle were shipped in on piecework basis, bargained for, carved up, and turned into meat for two million Berliners. Blood, horn, skin and other side-products were then used in serums and as boots for the Prussian military, amongst other things.
Along with the transport of goods, the significance of trains for passenger transportation rose as well. Starting in 1881, passengers could get to the central stockyard train station by walking down a wooden bridge that crossed over the cargo loading station. However, to do this, one needed to traverse a large part of the perilous slaughterhouse compound. The long-discussed plan was finally carried out in 1937 to stretch a covered walkway over the entire compound, connecting the apartment buildings to the south with the S-Bahn. 420 meters long, four meters wide, and hovering six meters above the chambers and paths of the slaughter yards, this barren windowless passageway was subsequently designated "the long sorrow" or the "rue de gallop."
In the hands of the people-owned enterprise Fleischkombinat Berlin during the GDR years, the war-damaged compound continued to be used as a slaughterhouse. In the empty lot on the other side of the train tracks arose the residential area Fennpfuhl ("Marsh Puddle"), the first East German large Plattenbau ("pre-fab") development (today partially under landmark preservation); the reconstructed Long Sorrow was extended to reach this housing project. With its 505 meters it was now the longest pedestrian bridge in Europe and a distinctive place in the metropolis, even featured in the opening credits of the crime series Polizeiruf 110.
After Germany's reunification the state-run meat production ended, and unemployment rose in Fennpfuhl; numerous pieces of the bridge were destroyed or sprayed, and it stank like urine – an image hard to place on the real estate market. Meanwhile, the city senate was dreaming about hosting the 2000 Olympics and making the neighborhood more lively and attractive. It came up with an idea: Accommodation and, above all, jobs for 10,000 people in and around the landmark-worthy brick and steel ruins, far removed from any gross notion of slaughtering. The whole development of the compound, its ambivalent significance for the city and inhabitant, its anachronistic appearance in the city's spatial fabric – the Long Sorrow represented it all. Although it was put under landmark protection, in 2002 a huge chunk had to give way to a "retail park." The bridge's stump ends today in front of a discount store.
True, the bridge did lose its original function with the transformation of the compound and needed renovation, but its demolition could have been avoided. The city had temporary control over who got what land, and even today there is no lack of free surface to be developed. As a landmark of industrial history, the Long Sorrow could have kept the memory of the slaughterhouse's significance alive. Instead, is it now a pedestrian bridge in pitiful condition, and surely not the only example of the destructive spread of retail stores along the Ringbahn's tracks.